Uncorking Messages from the Past
Singer-songwriter Clint Buffington didn’t write Jim Croce’s 1973 hit “Time in a Bottle.” He wasn’t even born yet. But it could easily be the Indiana musician’s anthem. Buffington, you see, is also an authority on messages in bottles – the kind written by castaways on desert islands or couples on cruise ships – and tossed into the sea, in hopes of someday being washed up on a distant beach and discovered.
Avid “bottle hunter” Buffington has found more than 90 messages in bottles to date, easily making him the record holder of such things. His blog, Messageinabottlehunter.com is a popular resource for bottled messages history, news, facts, and help, like best places to beachcomb for bottles and how to research what you find.
Some of the earliest messages in bottles were sent by ocean scientists in the 18th and 19th centuries as a firsthand way to document ocean currents. These are among the oldest messages ever found.
Over time, messages have been hurled into the sea sealed in old wine and beer bottles, and now plastic water bottles and even pill bottles. Aside from scientific markers, messages are sent in bottles to commemorate an event, as a fun experiment or even as a way to send personal wishes out into the vast unknown.
Buffington thinks of bottled messages as time capsules, connections to individuals and events from the past. In 2018, he told the Daily Mail, “When people send messages in a bottle, it captures a really specific moment in time, place, person, you know who they were at that moment when they wrote the note. And when you open it, it’s like someone is stepping out of their past and into my present for a minute.”
The oldest message Buffington has found so far is a 1959 bottle from the Guinness Brewery
Company. That year, the beer company dropped 150,000 bottles into the Atlantic Ocean as a marketing stunt promoting the company’s bicentennial.
The oldest bottled message ever found was tossed overboard in 1886 from the German research ship “Paula” in the Indian Ocean. It was discovered in 2018 by a couple on a remote beach in Western Australia.
His fascination with messages in bottles has also put him in touch with other current day bottle hunters and even the message senders themselves. He found his very first bottle on a beach in Turks and Caicos in 2007 while on vacation there with his family. The message had been set afloat from a beach in Carolina by a couple in 1999, marking their one-year wedding anniversary. He contacted the couple and even traveled to meet them and return the souvenir bottled message.
“The Tides that Bind,” a documentary film about Clint Buffington and his enchanting story as a bottle hunter, and the people he has met around the world as a result, was released in 2019.
Click the WikiHow link below to learn how to make your own message in a bottle!
Photos (From top): Clint Buffington; examining a recent find; fragments of a message sent in 1983 by Englishman Kelvin Euridge and found by Buffington on a Caribbean beach in 2011. All photos by Clint Buffington.